The Mindset of a Great Facilitator

April 25, 2017

Want to know the secret to great facilitation?  Hint: it has nothing to do with your process skills.  It has everything to do with your attitude.

As in many situations of life, mindsets are critical to your success. In her groundbreaking book, Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success, Carolyn Dweck shows how success in school, work, and almost every area of human endeavor is dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities.  People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that intelligence is static —are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that intelligence can be developed.  The former desire to look smart and thereby avoid challenges that lead to growth and success, while the latter desire to grow and develop and therefore seek out the challenges that lead to even more success.

Similarly, the mindset of a facilitator distinguishes the good from the great.

The mindset of a facilitator distinguishes the good from the great.  

Here are two hallmarks of a great facilitation mindset:

1.  An attitude of service

A great facilitator is a servant at heart.  It is part of his DNA; not simply a role he puts on when he walks into the room.  He understands, that at its core, facilitation is a helping role.

2.  Neutrality

A great facilitator remains impartial, particularly in high-stakes conversations.  She is like Switzerland, neither aiding nor abetting either of the protagonists in a conflict.  She restricts her direction to the process and flow of the discussion, not to the content and outcomes of the discussion.

So how does a great facilitator help a group that is spinning its wheels without compromising neutrality?  

He or she employs one of these strategies:

1.  Offer Suggestions 

Let’s suppose a group is stuck because it lacks information to make a decision.  A facilitator can say, “I suggest that you take a break to contact the experts who might have the needed information.”

2. Ask a question

Questions are a powerful way to redirect the energy and focus of a group.  In the case of the group above, the facilitator can ask, “What additional information is needed to make this decision?”

3. Explicitly take off your facilitator’s hat

There may be times when the facilitator has relevant and important content to share with the group.  When this is the case, the facilitator clearly indicates that she is stepping into the role of participant and then shares the relevant content.

How will you honor the hallmarks of a great facilitation mindset?  Here are two suggestions:

Interview your facilitator

What is their philosophy of facilitation?  Beyond the professional sphere, how are they involved in their community?  Consider sharing this quote with them, most recently attributed to Muhammed Ali: “Service is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”  How does that resonate with them?

Assess neutrality

If you are self-facilitating, turn the mirror on yourself.  Do you have a stake in the outcome?  Do you have important content to contribute to the dialogue?  If the answer to either question is “yes,” then you are not capable of being impartial and should seek another facilitator.

Happy facilitating, in the spirit of true service.

Paul Zaffiro

I have been facilitating at a professional level for over 15 years. As leader of The GYM, Procter & Gamble’s Global Innovation Capability, I designed and facilitated over 200 sessions in the areas of team building, organizational design, strategic visioning, and idea generation.  I am certified in multiple processes, including the Grove Strategic Visioning Process, Creative Problem Solving, the Basadur Simplexity Process, and the Verus Global Pathways to Leadership Process.  I don’t just design and facilitate sessions; I create experiences.  

When I'm not facilitating, you can find me serving in the community, building houses with Habitat for Humanity. 

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